Has tech bottomed? That is the most important question facing investors today.
If the technology sector has suffered enough, then we should see at some point a resilient rally. After all, the long-term economic rationale for owning tech remains in place. To quote
Abby Joseph Cohen of
, from a report released today, "Technology will continue to grow as a percentage of total GDP in the United States and other nations."
Abby is undoubtedly right over the long term. But in the short term, which I define as one year, investors are still asking themselves if now is the bottom for tech stocks. Abby defers to Goldman sector analysts
Laura Conigliaro and
Rick Sherlund to pick nervously at that one. Their answer? They "are still bullish."
But then they start to waffle. "While we are not calling the bottom at this point, we would guess that investor perceptions will be more positive by November and December," write Conigliaro and Sherlund.
Let's break this sentence down. They are "not calling a bottom." They are not making a prediction, only a "guess." And they are only guessing about "investor perceptions." This is not a resoundingly confident market call. It is, however, probably the most they could muster in the face of the consistent slide in
Nasdaq Composite since August.
And they may still be too bullish. Let's get real, folks. The entire tech sector is being repriced downward. You can argue the merits of the move, but don't argue the move. It is down. What you are seeing every day -- including Tuesday -- is the biggest meltdown since we hit bottom in late May. It has been going on since Labor Day, and it ain't over.
Let's not forget that on Sept. 1, only four weeks ago,
was trading at
an all-time high
. It has been cut nearly in half. Intel stock may well get a bounce later this month when it announces earnings -- investors prefer news of almost any kind to uncertainty. But the larger meaning of Intel's rout is that no tech stocks near their highs are safe. Not even the highest of the tech highfliers.
On the lower right-hand portion of my computer screen, I track those stocks. These are the names investors have crowded into during the current storm. The lifeboats include:
, a B2B solutions company,
, a chipmaker for digital pipelines,
, which sells routers to Internet service providers,
, which sells high-performance semiconductor chips to the big telecom companies, and others.
They share great growth prospects and even greater valuations. Take Juniper Networks, for example. The company's revenue grew nearly 100% in the latest reported quarter, and the stock trades for about 144 times
! Only a few years ago, 144 times
was considered a fairly lofty multiple. Like its peers, Juniper trades closer to its all-time high than to its 52-week low.
Juniper and its peers have begun to slip in the past week. That is a bit ominous. Investors are obviously afraid of what happens if these companies report anything less than spectacular news. As long as these companies keep growing at 50% to 100% a quarter, those valuations may hold. But no company in history has ever kept up that pace for long. Any significant slowdown in growth would cause investors to flee, and these stocks to be priced at more sensible levels.
To return to the original question: When will we know that tech stocks have bottomed and are set to rally? When stocks like Juniper sit closer to their recent lows than to their highs. We are not there yet.
Brett Fromson writes daily for TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He invites you to send your feedback to